When one considers learning and study, one should always keep in mind that there are three aspects that are of importance:
The ability of any learner to study successfully depends to a great extent on his fundamental study skills, i.e. his ability to concentrate, to perceive correctly and accurately, as well as the ability to remember what has been perceived.
Study skills should not be confused with study techniques and study methods. The difference between these can be explained by using the game of soccer as example. In order to be a soccer player, a person FIRST has to master the fundamental soccer skills, e.g. passing, heading, and dribbling the ball. Only after that can he be taught techniques and methods. In the same way, in order to be a good student, a learner FIRST has to master the fundamental study skills.
Mnemonics training is often done without keeping this sequential fashion of learning in mind. A mnemonic is a specific reconstruction of target content intended to tie new information more closely to the learner’s existing knowledge base and, therefore, facilitate retrieval. There are a variety of mnemonic techniques, including keywords, pegwords, acronyms, loci methods, spelling mnemonics, phonetic mnemonics, number-sound mnemonics, and Japanese “Yodai” methods. An example of an acronym is to remember the word HOMES to recall the names of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. The purpose of number-sound mnemonics is to recall strings of numbers, such as telephone numbers, addresses, locker combinations or historical dates. To use them, learners must first learn the number-sound relationships: 0=s; 1=t; 2=n; 3=m; 4=r; 5=l; 6=sh, ch, or soft g, 7=k, hard c, or hard g; 8=f or v; and 9=p. To remember the date 1439, for example, the learner uses the associated consonant sounds, t, r, m and p, and will insert vowels to create a meaningful word or words. In this case, the word “tramp” can be used.
There are, however, at least two problems in improving memory by means of mnemonic instruction. The first problem is — as already stated — that it overlooks the sequential fashion of learning. Mnemonics instruction is, to a large extent, instruction in memory techniques, which should be taught only AFTER the skill of memory has been learned. It can be compared to a person being taught soccer tactics, such as the “wall pass,” while he has not yet adequately mastered the skill of passing the ball. As stated in ‘Knowabout Soccer’, “No matter how good your passing technique, if the quality of your passing is poor, your technique will not be effective.” The second problem is that by teaching memory crutches only, the result is, as stated by Scruggs and Mastropieri, “on more complex applications, generalization attempts [are] less successful.” If the SKILL of memory is taught, however, the learner can apply it in any situation.
There are three learning techniques that can be employed to make study more successful.
1. Association: This is probably the most important and most effective of all the learning techniques, of which mnemonics is probably the most commonly used association technique.
2. Thinking in pictures: One is able to remember much better what has been seen in the mind’s eye than what has been thought in abstract terms. Therefore, one should always consciously try to think in terms of pictures.